Primary Concerns

By Devon Downey

Days before the primary election, candidates are being pulled from the ballot and then returned, and an investigation was reported as opened, closed, and then possibly opened again into a major gubernatorial candidate. All these things were initiated by the office of the Idaho Secretary of State — the person charged with maintaining fair and open elections.

Over the past few days, the Secretary of State’s office has lost one case disqualifying a candidate, basically withdrew from a second one, and then made a Comey-like announcement about the Ahlquist campaign.

Regardless of the intent, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney’s office has affected multiple elections, doing possible harm to former Reps. Phil Hart and Kathy Sims’ campaigns, as well as Dr. Tommy Ahlquist’s gubernatorial run.  Both Hart and Sims have been disadvantaged by the legal uncertainty of their campaigns, with ballots already having been cast which excluded both of them.

Denney said that voters who mailed absentee ballots should be able to request a new ballot and have their old one spoiled, as long as the clerk can verify the ballot belongs to the voter. Those who voted early in person are not able to get a new ballot. At the time of posting, District 3 where Sims is running, has had 384 absentee votes turned in and 166 in-person early votes. Hart’s District 7 has had 261 absentee votes and 240 in-person early votes. Not all of these ballots had their names crossed out, but there are probably ballots that did.

Both Denney and Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst maintain that these candidates may not be legally qualified to serve in the legislature, and that those qualifications will be reexamined after the primary. This statement alone could cause voters to change their mind and not vote for Hart or Sims.

Ahlquist was on the wrong side of a very Comey-esque announcement. Just one week before the election, Hurst claimed that the campaign was under investigation for campaign finance violations, then a few hours later claimed he misspoke. During an Idaho Reports interview on Thursday, Denney clarified that the Attorney General’s office has the complaint now, but acknowledged that his office had “dropped the ball.”

However, Denney also stated that his office expected an amended campaign finance report that would have clarified some of the in-kind contributions. The investigation, not investigation, maybe investigation talk coming out of the Secretary of State’s office can’t be helpful for Ahlquist’s campaign.

Questions have been raised the past few years about election integrity and the ability of political leaders to put their thumb on the scale. These three campaigns have all been affected by the Secretary’s office.

We will never know exactly what impact the Secretary of State’s actions had on these races. All three of these elections may be close, and Denney told Idaho Reports that he is expecting to see election contests filed.

For more on this story, watch Idaho Reports at 8:00 pm Friday or online any time after the show at and see our full interview with Secretary of State Lawerence Denney.


A “two-tiered system”: Court considers undocumented workers’ eligibility for disability benefits

By Melissa Davlin

In 2010, Elfego Marquez was tasked with painting an area over a tall doorway. The problem: There were no ladders available at the job site. After consulting with his boss, he stacked two buckets on top of each other, then climbed up to get to work.

supremecourt2He fell, landing on a concrete floor and suffering injuries to his shoulder and wrist that required multiple surgeries. Marquez, unable to lift his right arm above his head, was told by his doctor he couldn’t return to work.

He received temporary disability benefits, and his medical bills were paid. But when he sought permanent disability benefits, his employer, Pierce Painting, and the State Insurance Fund resisted. Why? Marquez is undocumented.

Undocumented workers prop up parts of Idaho’s economy, mostly working in physically demanding — and often dangerous — jobs. In the past, the Idaho Industrial Commission, which regulates workers’ compensation in the state, has denied permanent disability benefits based on legal status.

But last year, the commission ruled Marquez could, in fact, pursue permanent disability, prompting an appeal from the State Insurance Fund and bringing the case before the Idaho Supreme Court. Whatever the court decides, it will affect how the state handles claims from undocumented workers in the future — and could affect whether undocumented employees seek help for their injuries in the first place.


Different benefits

When workers are injured, there are a number of benefits they can seek, depending on the severity of the injury and how much it impairs their work.

Marquez received some temporary benefits from Pierce Painting and the State Insurance Fund following his accident, and his medical bills were paid in full.

But the sticking point came when Marquez sought permanent disability benefits when his physician told him he could no longer paint.

Permanent physical disability benefits have a higher statutory threshold to meet. Other types of benefits assume the injured worker will eventually be able to return to work, either at the same job or in another field. Not so with permanent disability.

The fight over Marquez isn’t so much about how hurt he really is. Rather, the State Insurance Fund’s argument hinges on a legal technicality: In order to grant permanent disability, the Industrial Commission must consider whether the employee can reasonably get another job.

During Wednesday’s oral arguments, attorney Clinton Casey said because Marquez is undocumented and isn’t legally able to get a job in the United States in the first place, the statute automatically precludes him from seeking permanent disability.

The Industrial Commission agrees Marquez’s legal status is a factor — one that would seemingly play in Marquez’s favor. In its ruling, commissioners pointed to the limited work available to undocumented workers. Not only are there fewer jobs available, but those jobs are almost all physically demanding.

“Remember, the pre-injury labor market for such an individual is small, and probably consists of the meanest type of unskilled manual labor,” the decision says. “Therefore, if disability is measured by considering the actual pre-injury and post-injury labor markets for an illegal alien, it seems likely that higher disability awards will result than would be the case for a similarly situated documented laborer.”

That’s the case for Marquez, who has a college education and taught in Mexico for several years. But those credentials don’t transfer to Idaho, leaving him and other undocumented workers to pursue mostly manual labor jobs in the US.

Marquez couldn’t be reached for comment.


Shadow economies, legal fictions

In the past, the Industrial Commission has ruled against undocumented workers. Take a look at this key passage from its 2011 decision in Otero v Briggs Roofing Company:

“Before the accident, (Otero) had no access to the labor market. The same is true after the accident. In effect, the accident, while it did affect (his) physical capacities, has not affected his ability to engage in gainful activity in his relevant labor market. He did not possess that ability in the first place.”

In the 2017 decision on Marquez’s claim against Pierce Painting, the commission walked that back, saying it isn’t responsible for enforcing federal immigration law. (“Had it been enforced by those with the authority to do so,” commissioner Thomas Baskin wrote, “we would not now be struggling with how or whether to apply state workers’ compensation law to what common experience tells us is a shadow economy of some consequence.”)

Instead, the commission says it’s responsible only for state workers’ compensation. “We cannot, in good conscience, create a two-tiered system of compensation, when all workers are intended to be protected under the (law),” the decision says.

(Chairman Thomas E. Limbaugh dissented with his fellow commissioners, saying Marquez’s legal status “entirely eclipses” the injuries sustained on the job as a factor in his future employment.)

Attorney James Arnold, who represented Marquez in Wednesday’s oral arguments, pointed to the “legal fiction” that propped up the commission’s previous denials. Employers keep hiring undocumented workers, who keep coming to Idaho without documentation because of the way the country’s immigration system and guest worker programs are set up.

“That’s why they continue to be employed,” Arnold said. “And they’re going to continue to be employed, and to (ignore that) is a legal fiction.”

Arnold said he has represented other undocumented workers have been injured on the job. Many settle claims in mediation.

This decision, however, will give guidance to the Idaho Industrial Commission on how to handle future claims. By paying benefits to injured undocumented workers, “we’re not necessarily endorsing future unlawful activity,” Arnold argued. “We’re accepting a reality… that there are approximately 35,000 undocumented workers in this state.”



Early Signs

By Devon Downey



The election has already begun, and we’re getting a sneak peek at who just might win.

Both Democrats and Republicans have seen an increase in early and absentee votes compared with 2014.

Democrats have seen their turnout increase by large margins and with some remaining unaffiliated, the trend looks even better for Dems.

The numbers have increased by 107% to 4,390. 2,002 of those votes came in Ada County, nearly matching the statewide total from the last gubernatorial election.

This presumably would be good for Mr. Balukoff, who won Ada County in the Democratic primary four years ago by nearly 60%. Winning without Ada County would be almost impossible for Balukoff; 48% of his votes in the last primary came from Ada.

Representative Jordan should be happy with the turnout numbers as well. North Idaho has seen a large increase in Democratic ballots, with over 500 more ballots coming from Latah, Kootenai, and Bonner counties, Jordan’s home base.

Higher Democratic turnout may also benefit Jordan because of her campaign’s relationship with supporters of Senator Sanders (Jordan has been endorsed by Democracy for America, which supported Sanders over Secretary Clinton in 2016, and the Sanders affiliated group Our Revolution). Sanders overwhelmingly defeated Clinton in the Idaho caucuses, partly due to historic voter participation.

Unaffiliated, Constitution, and Libertarian ballots have also been coming in at a higher rate than expected. Statewide, there has been a 66% increase in unaffiliated and third party ballots. The increase for unaffiliated voters is also focused in Ada, Latah, Kootenai, and Boundary counties.

Those voters did not grab a Republican ballot since the Republican primary is closed to all but Republicans. They either voted for Democrats or unaffiliated with a ballot mostly made up of judges.

An increase in unaffiliated votes is then assumed to be a good thing for Democrats, because even if a third of unaffiliated voters choose Democratic ballots, there will be roughly another 1,000 votes for Democrats, and none of those votes will be Republican.

Republicans have also seen an increase in absentee and early voting, but not nearly as large of a percentage change. While there are over 2,500 more Republican ballots this year so far, that is only a 17% increase from 2014 compared with the 107% increase the Dems saw.

Idaho Republicans should feel secure knowing that they still drastically outnumber Democratic votes by a rate of 4 to 1.

One interesting thing to note for the Republican voters is that while they have seen more voters turn out, many Idaho counties have actually seen a decrease in the number of votes as compared to last election cycle. Of note is Canyon County, which is a Republican stronghold.

There are 174 fewer votes cast in the county compared with last cycle. This is a small number considering that there have been over 1,500 ballots cast so far, but considering the circumstances it is a little concerning.

Unlike last cycle, the race is for an open seat which typically boosts turnout.

Many rural counties in Idaho have seen a decrease in Republican turnout, which may hurt Lt. Gov. Little, who has been courting the agricultural community. The largest increase is in Ada County, where Little, Rep. Labrador, and Dr. Ahlquist all have large bases of support.

Labrador will be trying to run up his vote total in CD1, which he has represented for almost eight years. Many of the smaller counties in CD1 have lower turnout than during the last gubernatorial election, but an increase in Latah, Kootenai, and Bonner counties will make up for those losses.

Ahlquist and Little have been heavily campaigning in eastern Idaho, hoping to run up the scorecard in more favorable areas. Ahlquist has helped develop the Twin Falls area, which could be good for his campaign.

Bonneville, Blaine, and Twin Falls counties all have seen an increase of at least 100 votes. In a race that could come down to the wire, any connection with these areas can be an advantage.

Regardless of which party you may belong to, there is positive news. Democratic enthusiasm seems high, boosted by a rare contested statewide primary and historic trends that favor the minority party in Congress.

Republicans can be happy knowing that they are not losing much ground on Democrats, even with the population increases. In just under a week we will see how these races play out, but right now it appears that excitement about the gubernatorial race is helping Idahoans become more engaged than they were four years ago.


Jordan political director resigns

Paulette Jordan’s field and political director Jennifer Martinez has resigned with a week to go until the primary.


Jennifer Martinez. Idaho Reports

“There was some disagreements,” Martinez told Idaho Reports. “I no longer agreed with the direction, necessarily, of the campaign. I still wish them the best of luck.”

Martinez declined to give details on those disagreements. Jordan’s campaign didn’t return a request for comment.

Martinez, a former Democratic candidate for Congressional District 2, was a prominent figure in the Jordan campaign. She was active on social media, promoting her candidate and engaging with potential Democratic primary voters.

Martinez said she resigned Monday afternoon, but emphasized there were no hard feelings and praised the campaign volunteers. “There’s a lot of momentum there. I’m still supportive of a lot of … the staff. ”

I still wish them all of the best of luck with the campaign,” she said. 




Gold standard advocate major Idaho Freedom Action donor

We’re getting more insight into who is paying for Idaho Freedom Action’s mailers. 

The group, which is the election arm of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, received $20,000 from Trusted Causes LLC, based out of Charlotte, North Carolina. There isn’t much information about Trusted Causes LLC online, though the organization shares an address with Ascension Marketing Group (the portfolio of which includes prepper site and, as well as The Sound Money Defense League, which advocates for “bringing gold and silver back as America’s Constitutional money.”

Both Ascension Marketing Group and The Sound Money Defense League are headed by Stefan Gleason, president of Money Metals Exchange. According to his LinkedIn profile, Gleason is based in the Boise area and is the former vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. 

Gleason has contributed columns to

Idaho Reports couldn’t reach Gleason for comment.

Other Idaho Freedom Action contributors include Robert and Cristina Rathbone of Boise, who gave $2,500; Casa Del Norte LP of Glenns Ferry (owned by rancher John McCallum), which gave $5,000; Coeur d’Alene Racing, which gave $3,500; and Lynn Beck of Idaho Falls, who gave $4667.95.


Threatening Words 

By Seth Ogilvie

Last week, voters across the state received The Idahoan in their mailboxes, with thousands of words penned by editors Lou Esposito and Patrick Malloy. The mailer kept the Idaho political community talking for days. Was it electioneering? Was it a newspaper?  

There’s another question hidden within the pages of The Idahoan: Did it contain a threat?

“She likes to say ‘remember the gal with guns,’’ Esposito wrote about congressional candidate Rep. Christy Perry. “We say if she has her vote on other issues WE WILL HAVE TO EVENTUALLY USE OURS.”

The poor sentence structure raises questions. What does Esposito want to use? Votes, or guns?

Perry took the statement as a threat. “The nasty and seemingly threatening comments made about me and other candidates put forth by that libertarian rag are perfect examples of what is wrong with Congress right now- lack of truthfulness, leadership, and civility,” said Perry, who is running for Congressional District 1. “It is insulting to the public-they deserve better.”

The comments came in an editorial titled “We Endorse Russ Fulcher for U.S. Representative, District 1.” The column said the usual nice things about Fulcher, and negative things about the other male candidates in the race, but reserved the “seemingly threatening comments,” as Perry said, for the only woman in the race.

Idaho Reports has reached out to Esposito and the Idahoan for clarification on the endorsement, but has not received comment.

But ambiguous writing and poor usage isn’t the only trouble The Idahoan has seen since landing in mailboxes last week.


The Idaho Democratic Party has asked for an investigation by the Secretary of State’s office into the legal legitimacy of the newspaper. The question: Is it a newspaper protected by the First Amendment, or an electioneering pamphlet made to look like a newspaper?

The Democratic Party has also asked Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to recuse himself due to his relationship with Esposito. In 2011, Denney, then speaker of the house, appointed Esposito to the state redistricting commission. He also donated $10,000 of House Leadership fund money to Esposito’s Gun PAC in 2012.

Then there is the Idaho Freedom Foundation involvement. Freedom Index ratings are displayed throughout The Idahoan, and advertisements for the Freedom Foundation appear multiple times.


“I saw the newspaper and the ads after it hit mailboxes,” said Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “They didn’t need my permission. All our stuff is public domain anyhow.”

That would mean your blog, newspaper, skateboard or any other object could also proudly display the Idaho Freedom Foundation logo without legal repercussions.

Then there’s the name. In 2007 Hoffman started a business called The Idahoan. Here is the filing:


You might notice Hoffman lists himself as editor and publisher, roles that Malloy and Esposito fill for the current incarnation of the paper.

But as of today, “I didn’t have any involvement in The Idahoan, its production, endorsements, funding or any other aspect of the publication,” Hoffman said.

Finding out if The Idahoan is a newspaper or a political expenditure could take some time. As for the “nasty” comment, you be the judge.


In 2016, this PAC sought to elect Democrats. Now, it’s supporting a challenger to a Democratic incumbent.

By Melissa Davlin




On Friday evening, I received a text message from a number I didn’t recognize, encouraging me to vote for Randy Johnson. That text sent me diving down a rabbit hole that showed either another split among Idaho Democrats, or a growing party that’s fostering competition.

“Hi Melissa. This is Chris. Have you seen that Randy Johnson was endorsed by Conservation Voters for Idaho and Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii? I believe that he will provide powerful leadership in the Statehouse as a Rep for our District. Can I count on you to vote for Randy on May 15th?

–Paid for by Responsible Leadership for ID PAC”

I’m an unaffiliated voter in District 17, where incumbent Rep. John Gannon faces a primary challenge from first-time candidate Johnson.

Admittedly, I’ve paid more attention to state races than legislative primaries this year, and I didn’t know much about this political action committee. So I started Googling.

Responsible Leadership for ID PAC, headed by Jeremy Maxand of Boise, was formed in 2016. That year, the PAC received $96,000 from the Idaho Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee — $70,000 in July, and an additional $26,000 in October. While the PAC received other donations, a sizable amount of its money came from the IDLCC. 


That cash was mostly spent in the general election to get Democrats elected to legislative seats statewide. (The effort didn’t go so well, as Republican newcomers took out key Democrats that cycle, including then-House Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston and Sen. Dan Schmidt of Moscow.)

Back to the IDLCC. Who donated to that? Democrats from across the state, and most of the Democratic lawmakers, including John Gannon.


The same John Gannon that Responsible Leadership for Idaho is now trying to defeat by supporting Randy Johnson.

It’s important to note that there is currently no IDLCC money in the Responsible Leadership for Idaho PAC. On Friday evening, House Assistant Minority Leader Ilana Rubel said the IDLCC isn’t involved in the PAC’s endorsement process, and doesn’t get involved in primary races.

Still, it’s interesting that the PAC that worked so hard to get Democrats elected in the general election less than two years ago — and spend a lot of IDLCC money to do so — is now focusing on a primary race with an incumbent lawmaker. The only reported expenditure for the Responsible Leadership for Idaho PAC is a Facebook ad for Johnson. (More may come out in subsequent reports, including, I presume, the money it cost to send me and other voters that Friday night text message.)

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding confirmed the IDLCC isn’t engaged in any political activity during the primary, adding that RLI PAC’s endorsement of Johnson won’t affect where the caucus puts its money in the general election, regardless of who wins the primary.

Gannon said he wasn’t involved in IDLCC decision-making in 2016, other than contributing money like most other Democratic caucus members.

“I don’t focus upon the downtown money,” he said in a message to Idaho Reports. “The Bench is where I focus and that includes my concerns regarding fighter jets at the airport which will result in hundreds of homes being unsuitable for residential use according to an Airport Study, a position that is different from downtown interests, as well as questions about the stadium. Another Bench priority is our schools and I am endorsed by the Idaho Education Association.”

In a message to Idaho Reports, Randy Johnson also focused on school issues and healthcare, as well as immigration.

“I’ve talked to hundreds of folks and have heard stories from DACA recipients, from parents who are afraid the deaf and hard of hearing program at Jefferson elementary could be cut and from countless people who are afraid of what healthcare insurance will cover,” Johnson said.

When asked for comment, Maxand of RLI PAC focused on what he thinks Johnson brings to the table.

“(H)e brings fresh energy and perspective to the Legislature,” Maxand wrote. “He’s a combat veteran, a neighborhood association president, he has two young boys in the public school system, and he knows the reality faced by undocumented members of our community.”

District 17 isn’t the only Democratic primary on the PAC’s radar. Maxand says Responsible Leadership for Idaho PAC will have independent expenditures on behalf of Rob Mason, who is running for the open House seat in District 16.

Another note: Most of the PAC’s money this primary season is coming from out of state, including $3,000 from John Stocks, head of the National Education Association in Washington DC, and $2,000 from Janet Swanberg of San Francisco. Neither could be reached for comment; Maxand said Stocks’ contribution came as an advance for the general election, but was reported during this cycle.

And how about those endorsements? Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii has endorsed just three candidates this primary cycle: Johnson, Paulette Jordan for Governor, and Mason in District 16. (That District 16 race for retiring Rep. Hy Kloc’s seat has five Democrats.) PPVNW’s page has no explanation as to why it’s endorsing any of these candidates over their opponents. The website for Conservation Voters for Idaho has no endorsements listed.



But Gannon has his own progressive cred. In a mailer sent to District 17 voters, Gannon touts endorsements from Medicaid for Idaho leaders Sam Sandmire, Luke Mayville, and Tracy Mulcahy Olson.

In short, this is a race you want to keep an eye on — especially as competitive up-ticket Democratic primaries will drive voters to the polls.